"Don’t hesitate to discuss the possibilities around you and maintain your contacts despite the isolation that writing a doctoral thesis can bring. It’s through these informal exchanges that you’ll hear of a position or about particular expectations.”
Vincent Capt received his Doctorate in 2012 from the Faculty of Arts at UNIL, in co-tutelle with the University of Paris 8. Since 2016 he has been working since 2016 at the Haute école pédagogique (HEP) for the Canton of Vaud, and was appointed Associate Professor in didactics of French in August 2020.
Thesis title (our translation) : The Epistolary Mania. From a textual to a poetic analysis of letters from the asylum kept by the Collection de l'Art Brut.
GC: Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
VC: I have been working at the HEP-Vaud since 2016 as a specialist in the didactics of reading and writing in primary schools. I teach my students that they have amnesia (laughs). I present and analyse with them the ways in which you and I learned to read and write at school, under the effect of particular professional approaches and teaching devices.
Why did you choose to do a PhD?
First of all, there are the personal reasons. I am the first in my family to have completed a university education, which was both a challenge and a source of motivation. Out of appetite for the subject and interest in it, I had been very invested in my university studies in French. The domain fascinated me. Jean-Michel Adam, at that time Professor of French Linguistics at UNIL, appreciated the quality of my work and told me that a position as an assistant would soon be open. I was able to do my doctoral thesis under his co-direction. It's a choice I don't regret! My doctorate now allows me, in my position as a researcher and trainer, to have professional tools at many levels.
Did you have a career plan during your PhD?
I would say that it happened in two stages. During the first two years, I concentrated on completing my thesis project while devoting a lot of time to reading. Then, as the project took shape and I progressed with the writing, I started thinking about what to do next. I found out that a position as lecturer was about to open up, just at the time of finishing my thesis. I was lucky that this opportunity came up at that time because I wanted to continue in research. I had the position for four years. Then, during my time as lecturer, I had to think about what I wanted to do afterwards. I was very keen to continue on the academic path, but I knew that my prospects were blocked at UNIL because permanent posts of senior lecturers (MER) and professors had recently been filled. I chose to take a sort of "step sideways" and move towards teacher training.
You’re an associate professor at the HEP-Vaud. On the day of your defence, would you have imagined holding this position today?
No, not at all. It took time, maturation and hindsight – things you don't necessarily have when you're immersed in your thesis ...
Apart from your teaching and research activities, do you carry out other activities or have other commitments in the context of your role?
As part of my teaching activities, I mainly do initial training at Bachelor and Master levels. I also teach in continuing education. Research in French didactics is now organised at an international level, which leads to collaborations with colleagues from Quebec, Belgium and France. In addition to these activities, I have various mandates, such as disciplinary internship visits, which evaluates students who teach French, participation as a didactic expert in the cantonal reference tests (the tests which decide on the orientation of schoolchildren in year 8 of Harmos) and in the national tests on fundamental skills in reading comprehension (run by the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education), as well as a role as a didactic adviser in the ongoing development of new teaching methods in French-speaking Switzerland.
What do you like most about this job?
The feeling that I’m "useful" – in all modesty. For many reasons, often structural, the impact of research on teaching can only be assessed over the long term... you need about a generation of teachers to pass before practices change significantly. As far as the didactics of French are concerned, I am, for example, very sensitive to mobilising writing activities that are close to the "authentic" practices of pupils: restricting the teaching of written production to essays or dissertations, for example, creates a gap that is detrimental to motivation and learning. I also enjoy visiting students in the classroom and sometimes seeing that the teaching-learning arrangements offered in training courses have been set up coherently, that they work well, and even that they’re appreciated by the practitioners who welcome the trainee!
Tell us about the path that led you to your current position?
After having been a lecturer at UNIL, I was hired as a lecturer at HEP-Vaud, then I obtained the position of associate professor which I currently hold. Before completing my doctorate, I was a primary school teacher in the Vaud system for six years, at the same time as my undergraduate studies at UNIL. I have both teaching experience and a scientific background in French linguistics, with interests centred on discourse analysis, textual linguistics and enunciation theories. HEP-Vaud is currently recruiting more and more profiles with both teaching and research experience. Furthermore, the working culture at HEP-Vaud seems to me to be more collaborative than what I experienced in the French section at UNIL. This organisation of work has been a great factor of integration and motivation.
What advice would you give to a doctoral student or post-doc preparing for the next stage of his or her career?
Don’t hesitate to discuss the possibilities around you and to maintain your contacts despite the isolation that writing a doctoral thesis can bring. It’s through these informal exchanges that you’ll hear of a position or about certain expectations. It is very important to have your ear to the ground. My other piece of advice would be to identify what, in society, corresponds most to our expectations regarding the discipline in which we specialise. In this respect, thinking about your discipline outside the university can be very useful. For example, you might ask: if I am a researcher in biology or psychology, what are the options that might interest me if I’m not precisely a biologist or psychologist? It’s worth asking which aspects you’re most interested in, whether that means, for example, an educational, social or communicational dimension.
Published on 10 May 2021